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Hearts Beat Loud is the Year's Wokest Feel-Good Fairy Tale

Hearts Beat Loud is the Year's Wokest Feel-Good Fairy Tale

Kiersey Clemons as Sam

The queer-themed film's plot may harken to Hollywood's past, but the lives on display make it a movie for our future.

The only real "issue" in the new musical movie Hearts Beat Loud is the very human difficulty of letting go of the past. It permeates virtually every element of the plot: Single dad Frank (Nick Offerman) laments the death of his wife, the impending close of his outdated Brooklyn record store, and his glory days as a once-promising musician. Frank's daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) also misses her mom, while constantly struggling with whether or not to abandon practical plans to go to medical school. And even Frank's mother, Marianne (Blythe Danner), whose dementia is worsening, has to cope with the literal loss of her memories, clinging to them as she recounts her own history as a singer.

Conversely, the movie itself--directed and co-written by Brett Haley--has no difficulty ditching some of the cinematic past we're familiar with. Because here's what's not an issue: The fact that Frank is white and his daughter is black. The fact that Frank has a casually sexualized relationship with his friend and landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette). And the fact that Sam is openly exploring her blossoming queerness with her girlfriend, Rose (Sasha Lane). These elements are not only organically woven into the story, they aren't even discussed by the characters. Is Sam adopted? Is she the product of a biracial couple? If memory serves, we're never told, as if it's not really our business--or anyone else's, for that matter. And Sam's orientation is never addressed--by Frank or any other character--as some hurdle to leap or some water cooler topic. In blithely progressive fashion, it simply is.

InsideKiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman

Which is not say that all of Hearts Beat Loud is cracking dusty norms. The central narrative--about Frank and Sam's musical union as a father-daughter double act--is a swift assemblage of Hollywood-friendly plot point convenience. Despite reluctance from Sam, a singer, Frank records one of their "jam seshes," uploads it to Spotify, and within a day or so it's magically playing through the speakers of a coffee house. Not long after, a producer is offering to work with the pair and even take them on tour, a proposal that's hard to digest for even the firmest believer in the notion that new talent is discovered every day. And at the risk of spilling spoilers, the final act, while not shamelessly tidy, is resolved in a way that's propelled by a feel-good agenda.

But none of that can subtract from Hearts Beat Loud's cultural alertness. From LGBTQ to POC, marginalized folks have been clawing for movies that integrate them without incident or a PSA megaphone. This movie, whose tuneful lead star Clemons is queer herself, is one of them. And while some may find it a bit utopian that Frank and Sam are never confronted with racial or homophobic struggles, the lack of those struggles is integral to what Hearts Beat Loud so elegantly depicts: these are not lives being lived with some tired, apologist axe to grind; they're simply lives being lived. Period.

Hearts Beat Loud is now in theaters.

All photos courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.

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R. Kurt Osenlund